There seems to have been an unusual spate of questions on Academia with a similar "unsung genius" theme. I'm not going to highlight any particular post but the bulk of them relate to fields of physics (especially quantum mechanics and relativity), psychology, and mathematics, but occasionally include other domains. The questions usually involve one or more of the following things:

  1. A statement about the researcher's unappreciated independent work that would, could, or in their view already has, produced a revolutionary new way of looking at the topic of interest.
  2. A description of the paucity of their own academic training or credentials usually due to the lack of time the author has had to pursue a mundane academic career while working on the revolutionary theory, or due to bias on the part of a degree awarding institution.
  3. One or more self-publications, predatory journal publications, or YouTube videos.
  4. A desire for money (employment as a senior research director), pinnacle fame (nomination for a prize of award of some kind), widespread recognition (adoption of my theories into mainstream physics, medical, mathematics, or psychological practice).
  5. A request for suggestions about how to force, coerce, convince, bribe, leverage or otherwise manipulate others into overcoming the hurdles the OP has faced.

Ultimately, most of the posts get closed for want of clarity... but I'm wondering whether it would be more useful to:

  • Produce a community answer of the kind that I've seen elsewhere, that addresses the main problems. Such an answer might include separate sections with comments that are domain specific
  • Close the questions as being duplicates, rather than as merely requiring clarification. The advantages of doing that would be that all similar questions were ultimately directed towards a useful generic answer and the OP would be given clear information about how their question would have to be improved before it could be reopened as a non-duplicate.

The second of the points above would also cater to those questions (of which I've seen several) which, at a first glance, appear to be like those I've described but turn out not to be.


2 Answers 2


I think that many questions of the kind you describe can be considered duplicate of

I believe I have solved a famous open problem. How do I convince people in the field that I am not a crank?


I believe I have a clever idea/tool that should be widely adopted by the research community. How to interpret a lukewarm response?

The latter has a negative total score, but the answers therein are on spot.

There might be other similar questions too, and I don’t know whether we could say much more on the topic.

When encountering similar questions, it is certainly advisable to vote to close them as duplicates of one of the two above targets, depending on which one fits better. However, regarding a few of the recent questions we have received, I admit that I've found them unclear, and in such cases it's reasonable to ask for clarification before closing.

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    Perhaps another "type" of question is like this one -- "How can I discuss my theory with an academic?" I've seen a few of these and always feel for the asker, many of whom are quite reasonable and would gladly pay to be told their theory is wrong. But I don't think this question has a good answer; there doesn't really seem to be a marketplace for these kind of interactions.
    – cag51 Mod
    Mar 12, 2023 at 0:46
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    I think a key issue with these sorts of questions is that when we entertain them individually, they commonly devolve into a discussion of the merits of the asker's theory. Effectively, the answer to "how can I discuss my theory with an academic" becomes "ask on Academia.SE how to discuss my theory and rely on Cunningham's law" (e.g. from XKCD). Unfortunately, these conversations are rarely actually productive for anyone involved.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Mar 16, 2023 at 15:33
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    @BryanKrause Especially when they're in Ac.SE favorite areas: math, physics, etc. Mar 19, 2023 at 20:48
  • @AzorAhai-him- Also I think those areas are just more prone to crankery of the "I solved an open problem" sort than more experimental fields; the latter have bigger issues with methodological issues in statistics (e.g., p-hacking) as well as outright fraud, as well as breakdowns between academic understanding and the general public.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Mar 19, 2023 at 21:02
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    @BryanKrause Perhaps. There are plenty of cranks in linguistics as well. Mar 19, 2023 at 21:21
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    @AzorAhai-him- Gotcha. I guess I'd consider some of the evolutionary psych folks pretty crank-y, not to mention the modern-day Freudians.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Mar 19, 2023 at 21:24
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    @BryanKrause I'm just guessing our crank distribution is a function of both the SE field bias and maybe an underlying crank distribution toward those fields. Mar 19, 2023 at 22:27

These questions are not really different to other questions, so we should treat them the same (close as duplicate if they are, otherwise not).

However, for those questions especially we should remember that they are valid questions, often asked in good spirit and not talk the user down or insult them. This meta-question for example has, in my opinion, a bit of "down-talking". Mostly, the user asking those truely believed they improved physics etc. While as a researcher, you know there are millions of those people, they still deserve a valid answer (which should also tell them that they are likely to be wrong, but in friendly terms).

I have seen on this site those kinds of questions and people suggesting that they are duplicates of some other, not useful question, because in both questions the asker is identified as a "crank". This is not useful and adds to the "arrogance of the academics", possibly intesifying the feeling of "I can do it better without academic educations".

So if the duplicate is relly a duplicate, close it with that reason, otherwise give helpful answers. I believe a community answer would be too much and too confusing to help here.

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    I think it is wrong to fail to communicate to someone that they are acting foolishly. It isn't somehow better to go along and pretend they may have actually discovered something that disproves e.g. the Second Law or found a major flaw in existing theory. It's far more likely they have a gap in their understanding, and the kindest thing to do is to let them know that as soon as possible.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Mar 14, 2023 at 21:57
  • The impression I have so far, particularly after looking at some of the linked pages from the answer @MassimoOrtolano, is that many of these questions get closed for "lacking information" or some other "not clear" reason ... whereas it would be better for them to be closed as duplicates with links to some good existing answers. Mar 14, 2023 at 23:40
  • @BryanKrause: I argue for saying "There are many people who believe they find a flaw. Usually, they are wrong. Consider getting a degree to understand things better" instead of saying "This is a duplicate" (if it is not easy to see for them why or if it isn't a duplicate) or "You are a crank." And I don't think it's the kindest thing to call them "foolish" or "unsung genius" - you can just leave those terms out if they act in good faith. If you don't know academia and believe you are right, you are in my opinion not acting foolish, you just don't know the system.
    – user111388
    Mar 15, 2023 at 22:07
  • @CrimsonDark: If it is, for them (not for us) easy to see why it is a duplicate and the answer is helpful, obviously it is better to link to the duplicate instead of closing for unclear.
    – user111388
    Mar 15, 2023 at 22:10
  • @BryanKrause: Let me emphasize: When I said "they deserve a valid answer", I didn't mean to pretend they actually discovered something. But also not closing unhelpfully.
    – user111388
    Mar 15, 2023 at 22:14
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    @user111388 people can act in good faith and still be unsung geniuses or crank. You are right that in many cases these people don’t really know what they are talking about, but the point here is to communicate to these people precisely that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Once can use “crank” or any equivalent turn of phrase, but ultimately there is no way of sugarcoating the foolishness of their position. Mar 16, 2023 at 17:03
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    @ZeroTheHero: I don't think there is anything foolish about not understand how academia work. And one can indeed talk to the people, tell them why no academic would read their "papers" and suggest them to do a degree. This is indeed more helpful then just linking to another question which has nothing in common except both questioners are "cranks". And I would be surprised if people react the same whether they are called "cranks", "unsung geniuses" or not. I know people I think are idiots - I don't think it would be helpful to call them exactly that if they want my advice.
    – user111388
    Mar 16, 2023 at 17:25
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    @user111388 yes I get that point that the links might not be good fits, and I’m not advocating calling people “idiots”, but this is not a synonym of “crank”. One does need a solution else this becomes sealioning, and I don’t think one can sugarcoat the basic fact that, in most instances, these people don’t even know that they don’t know. Mar 16, 2023 at 17:37
  • @ZeroTheHero: I read your link - my impression is that this sealioning is not done in good faith. Of course, if someone is not acting in good faith, we should not engage in useless discussion - but this is the same for any other types of questions. Are those people really a problem on this page? And I do believe that one can tell (goodfaithed) people nicely that they don't know or call them cranks. While this may not be as bad as "idiots", I'd consider it neither nice nor useful (in convoncing them they don't know).
    – user111388
    Mar 16, 2023 at 17:54
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    @user111388 "Are those people really a problem on this page?" - Yes, they are, though usually worse on the sites in specific fields since we don't allow questions about the content of research here.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Mar 17, 2023 at 15:20

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